Sergio Perez and Alex Albon now have the same number of Q3 appearances in Formula 1 this season.
It is part of a painful contrast between Perez and the driver he replaced at Red Bull, and one Red Bull must have noticed.
After a fifth consecutive early qualifying elimination for Perez, Red Bull motorsport advisor Helmut Marko noted there is “no-one available who could replace” the out-of-Saturday-form driver.
It didn’t come across as though Marko lamented that situation. And it was probably not meant to indicate Red Bull would like to replace Perez but can’t. Because Perez is still under no immediate threat.
That said, in the context of a Q1 exit, as team-mate Max Verstappen secured yet another pole, there is an inescapable feeling that Red Bull’s frustration must be mounting.
Perez is lucky that Red Bull is not in competition with anyone this season. These successive underachievements do not harm Verstappen, or the team, in any meaningful way. Especially as Perez, as Marko noted, tends to do a good job on Sunday and offsets the worst of the damage.
But in bluntly acknowledging the lack of options within the Red Bull pool in an interview with Sky Germany, Marko and his fellow Red Bull high-rollers have surely started paying more attention to the driver it kicked out to make room for Perez in 2021: Albon.
In British Grand Prix qualifying, Albon once again presented a stark contrast. In demonstrably the fastest car in F1, Perez has qualified 16th. In demonstrably not the fastest car, Albon will line up eighth.
It’s hardly the first time Albon has excelled in his role as Williams’s driving force. But a steady run of eye-catching performances has coincided with Perez’s awful qualifying form. They have now each made Q3 four times this season, after a Silverstone session in which their respective runs of form were perfectly demonstrated.
Their fortunes would be determined by a one-lap shootout at the end of the rain-affected opening segment, thanks to a late red flag.
When the session was suspended, Perez entered the pitlane and briefly moved to enter his pitbox but then stayed in the fast lane and drove to the end to queue at the red light instead.
He waited at the end of the pitlane for eight minutes before the session resumed, which Perez said “didn’t help for the temperature of the tyres”.
But Pirelli reckoned Perez’s tyre temperatures were fine for his actual flying lap, and even he did not try to use it as a real excuse when he briefly discussed his Q1 exit with written media.
What reduces it as a factor even further is that just behind him on the road, Albon was facing pretty much the same circumstances. He’d been sent to the end of the pitlane just after Perez and sat there for seven minutes himself. He had to build tyre temperature and had one lap to save his skin. But he didn’t flounder, he excelled.
Albon typically does that in situations like this. When he is happy in his car he is brilliantly effective at throwing it around and just living with any consequences. Perez, by contrast, admits that conditions like these expose his struggles in the Red Bull more.
Perez seems to be mostly fine in normal circumstances – sometimes close to Verstappen, sometimes a little further away. But throw in the variable of low or changeable grip and Perez’s slightly inferior confidence or comfortability in the car becomes a real problem. He’s more timid, and bleeds laptime everywhere.
“In these conditions it’s where I struggle the most with the car,” said Perez.
“My issues with the car become more apparent in changeable conditions.
“So, I think it’s something that as a group we need to get on top of and understand what we are able to do better. It’s as simple as that.”
Even versus Albon in Q1 at Silverstone, the difference is extremely clear. Albon’s confidence in attacking the first big braking zone of the lap is much greater. Perez needs a bigger lift through Copse. And Albon’s minimum speed through the final sequence is superior, too.
It was just an all-round much better lap, in much the same circumstances, in a car that should have been slower. Not half a second faster.
So, no, Perez is not under threat from anyone inside the Red Bull pool. But the very driver he replaced is making him look bad. And that cannot be sitting comfortably with Perez or his team.